Democracy Progressing in Africa, Transparency International Says
(But much work remains to be done, warns TI representative Akere Muna)
By Charles W. Corey
Washington - "Hopeful" and "moving in the right direction" is how a senior representative of Transparency International (TI) describes democracy and governance across sub-Saharan Africa. But, he warns, managing peaceful political transition remains a big problem in much of Africa.
Akere Muna, vice-chairman of Transparency International's international board of directors, told America.gov February 22 that at the most basic level, trends are positive because people are discussing the need for increased transparency and accountability in their governments. Speaking by telephone from his office in Cameroon, Muna said there is still much work to do.
Transparency International is a civil-society organization that fights corruption worldwide through more than 90 chapters. Since 1995, it has published an annual Corruption Perceptions Index that ranks countries from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (free of corruption). TI's 30 chapters in sub-Saharan African countries monitor democratic conditions within their own countries, operating on the premise that local people know their nations best, Muna said, and building coalitions with civil society, the private sector and, ideally, their own governments.
Noting the dozens of elections are slated for Africa in 2010, Muna emphasized the need to manage transitions peacefully. These elections, he said, are "the first take and a test" of Africa's ability to follow through on increased democratization and transparency.
Muna warned that elections in themselves are not enough because sometimes a legally elected government takes office and simply "ties up the system," leaving a coup d'etat the only option for change.
The TI representative said "increased talk about the need for good governance and the corrosive impact of corruption is a welcome sign," but cautioned multiparty democracy "comes with certain constraints" that must be addressed.
"When politicians and political parties have to compete for votes, things can happen. When a society is not used to dealing with these factors," he said, legal safeguards must be put in place to guard against corruption.
He added that an African government is often the nation's main employer, and historically some governments have only hired from one ethnic group, a practice that can foster corruption. Also, many sub-Saharan economies remain highly dependent on cash, which contributes to corruption because cash is hard to track and easy to hide.
Muna, who is also president of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), said people in sub-Saharan Africa tend "not to fight for certain things" - like constitutions - that are perceived to be handed down from above. Constitutions are not always fully understood or effectively used by the citizenry, he added.
One notable exception, he said, is South Africa, which has a working, living, actively used constitution due to its relatively recent struggle to end apartheid.
PILLARS OF GOOD GOVERNANCE
Too often in sub-Saharan Africa, "nobody interrogates the system" - no one connects what the government is doing under the constitution and how those activities affect corruption, poverty and the government's responsibility to its citizens, Muna said. He cited Transparency International's framework of pillars of good governance as a way to measure a country's success in fighting corruption.
The pillars, he said, are key elements that can be used to measure progress on good governance. The National Integrity System Model of pillars includes areas such as media, civil society, an auditor general and international participants.
One of the vital pillars of good governance is accountability, Muna said, adding it requires a free press. "If you don't have a vibrant and responsible press, then it is impossible to be able to have any kind of system that holds any hope for the future. So the press has a key role to play and one that is not to be taken lightly."
Sub-Saharan African nations often lack an adequately trained free press that is informative, authoritative, responsible and not sensational, according to Muna. Drawing from his own experience in Cameroon, he said it is important for local journalists to report on government budgets and pending projects, such as the construction of a well or road in a village. Citizens then can question their leaders on the project's status and the disposition of the funds for that project. "That is empowerment that encourages accountability," he said.
An active civil society is also important. Muna described civil society as the "salvation" force charged with realigning governmental processes to ensure things are happening to improve society as a whole.
Commenting on recent events, Muna described Zimbabwe as a country suffering from a "total breakdown" of the pillars of integrity and good governance. He sees Guinea as a society emerging from a very unfortunate past where things now seem to be realigning, and he has hope for Niger as well.
Turning to Nigeria, Muna described a complex country with a dynamic free press, able to correct itself politically. Political correction is currently under way there, he said, with the elevation of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to acting president. Muna warned, however, that Nigerians have long viewed corruption as a way of life.
In Madagascar, Muna said, recent political developments illustrate "Africa has problems managing political transition," something he termed a common problem in the region.
"Every time I look at American television and I see all those former U.S. presidents together, that is an amazing experience for Africans to visualize.
"How does one manage transition? That is the biggest question for Africa, to manage transition peacefully across the board in countries such as Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Zimbabwe, so their governments are in line with the wishes and aspirations of their people."
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)